Don’t forget to read part 1 of this review where the “25 O’Clock” songs are analyzed.
"Psonic Psunspot" (The Dukes Of Stratosphear's Second Disc) Was Issued In 1987, Right Between "Skylarking" And "Oranges & Lemons".
Things were different the second time the Dukes grabbed their instruments and donned their Paisley shirts. The record company was really interested in what could come out of it, and the budget had been doubled. And the sound was not to be the pastiche that characterized “25 O’Clock” – this time around it was an homage to most 60s bands, regardless of the fact that they had anything to do with pyschedelia or not. The leadoff single exemplified that perfectly, as “You’re A Good Man Albert Brown” was a buoyant sing-along in the vein of the Small Faces. While it didn’t hit as hard as “The Mole From The Ministry”, it was successful enough to warrant this new excursion in the eyes of the record company.
If anything, the second time around the line that separated XTC from the Dukes became indivisible, with songs like the impeccable “Vanishing Girl” and “Pale And Precious” being (needlessly?) sacrificed on the Dukes’ altar. “Vanishing Girl” (a song that trails the sound of The Hollies) was also used to promote the album, and I must admit it is my favorite song penned by Colin ever.
And “Pale And Precious” is one of the most honorable homages to the Beach Boys I have ever listened to along with R.E.M.’s “At My Most Beautiful”. The vocal harmonies are absolutely exhilarating all along, and the coda could go on for 10 minutes and not make you lose your interest for a single second. Continue reading →
The Dukes Of Stratosphear: Chips From The Chocolate Fireball
This CD-only anthology captures the original bouts of musical forgery that XTC undertook as The Dukes of Stratosphear. Both the EP “25 O’Clock” and the album “Psonic Psunspot” are included here in their entirety. And the anthology warrants all the laurels it is usually the recipient of.
The band (with Dave Gregory’s younger brother Ian on drums) showcases its coruscating pedigree, and the merits of its music become easier to apprehend in such a context. These recordings as their psychedelic alter egos were to lead to a phenomenal creative run and even a hit single at a time in which XTC had the rockiest relationship with the buying public. The song “The Mole From The Ministry” (a transparent nod to “I Am The Walrus”) outsold the singles from “The Big Express” so effortlessly that it was embarrassing.
It was also the most palpitating reminder for the Swindon rockers that having good fun on the studio fully translates into a finished piece of vinyl. Both “Mummer” and “The Big Express” suffered from a stiffness that was to vanish for “Skylarking” and “Oranges & Lemons”. “The Big Express” in particular had been labored at for a long time, leaving everybody but Andy jaded.
“25 O’Clock”, conversely, was assembled in little more than two weeks with Andy and John Leckie at the helm. Out of the six songs, only “The Mole From The Ministry” was new (Andy wrote it at the piano one morning). The remaining songs had been around for a long time, and the strongest the plagiarism the most effective the EP turned out to be. “Bike Ride To Te Moon” recalled the days of Pink Floyd under Barrett’ aegis so close to the mark that it was staggering. The title track was also intoxicatingly fun, a true testament to an age in which daftness was a virtue and a torch to bear. The same can be said about “Your Gold Dress”, with an unmatchable druggy guitar. And Colin’ songs on both Dukes’ albums were the truest revelation of all. He had never kept such an even keel of excellence to my ears. For the first and only time he and Andy were absolutely equalized. Continue reading →